Conversations about the future


When three generations got together for a family gathering, a grandmother and her daughter-in-law were surprised to find that they shared common views on the future of the church and how it should respond to the needs of their children and grandchildren.  This is their shared reflection.

The Catholic Church is going through a difficult phase in its life in the UK and the ‘organisation’ seems very unwilling to change.  We have a church run by men with centralisation of control.  The questioning of central authority is mainly ignored and the female role in the church continues to be supportive and unquestioning.  There is poor communication between church and laity and many people feel ignored or excluded.  The potential of women to contribute their skills and experience is lost.  We feel the church is not listening and so we do not speak out.

For Clare, my daughter-in-law, this feeling of distance started at school when she had her vocations meeting with the school chaplain.  She was told that she couldn’t be a priest but she could be a nun.  She asked the chaplain why and he couldn’t give an answer that made sense to her.  Thirty-five years later she, like many of her friends, still haven’t been given an answer that makes sense.

She had discussions with a theologian friend of her mother, Charles Davis, as well as many conversations with people from the Catholic chaplaincy at university.  However, nothing ever persuaded her that the church has got the answer right on why women cannot be priests.  She has the same reaction to why priests cannot marry.  All the theological reasons given by the church over the last 35 years, set in the context of growing enlightenment with regard to tolerance, sexism and racism, make it even more out of line with what Jesus would have wanted.

We began by discussing the fact that young people fall away from the church soon after they leave high school.  During their school years they make their First Communion and their Confirmation.  These are big occasions in their lives and the lives of their families, but somehow, sadly, the church and Mass are no longer relevant in their teenage life and beyond.  They drifted away from the established church during the period of the scandal of sex abuse within the church.  They were disheartened and became disillusioned about the way in which the church dealt with the sorry affair.

However, for many, their faith has never left them.  Now adults, with their own families, many believe in justice and peace in our troubled world, protecting the environment as Pope Francis advocates.  They support charities, give generously for war-torn countries and have concern for refugees and immigrants.  In other words ‘love thy neighbour’, Christ’s message, remains their focus.  They do not see the relevance of attending Church when spiritually they gain very little.  The new translation of the Mass does not help!

In view of the shortage of priests, and priests becoming older and unable to continue, there does not seem to be a future without involving the laity.  The church seems reluctant to involve lay people in services and give them responsibility.  The idea of married priests or even women priests is still not discussed or considered.  We need to be bold about the future, and dialogue should be important when discussing possible solutions if our children are to have a church in the future.

The involvement of women, in our view, is an important issue, since they are the ones bringing children into the world and nurturing them in their faith.  We believe the church could do more to welcome new ideas, to see a way forward which would involve the laity and especially good enthusiastic skilled young people.  We agreed that young people are very caring and have energy to get things done.  Can you imagine the support that would be unleashed to assist our priests in their mission?  They would not continue to feel the burden of parish life on their own shoulders and the church could become a community again.

I see young families organising and running Children’s Liturgy during term time, and at Christmas the children told the Christmas story to the parish with readings and carols.  It is so uplifting.  This is a great example that the church could use to encourage our future generation.

Some dioceses have introduced a clustering policy to address the issue of shortage of priests.  If laity had been more involved in these discussions, I am sure some parishes would not be closed.  Women and indeed the laity feel excluded in plans for our communities and the future of our church, and we find this so sad.

Our church has a great deal to be sorry for, and it makes sense for us all to get together to discuss ways for the future.  Women contribute greatly to the church, bringing their families to Mass and the sacraments, and visiting the sick and bereaved.  Today’s educated women would love to be more involved and heard.  Communities thrive when women organise social events and there is interaction between people.

The laity could highlight what can be achieved in our parishes and community with co-operation and dialogue.  Dialogue is absent, and young families are disinterested because they feel they have no part to play.  They vote with their feet because the church is not in tune with their lives or interested in their views, so the next generation is lost.  Young men and women with families are put off by what has happened in the past.

We as women want to be given respect and taken seriously, as people in the community with skills to offer – not just doing flowers, cleaning the church and hospitality.  It is a gift of women that ‘they get things done’.  It is not enough to ask for volunteers, people want to be involved in the decision making of their church and its future.  Lay people can offer leadership, pastoral care, organisation and community development, imaginative spirituality at every level to nurture and encourage parishioners to make them feel part of their community.

People today are hungry for a church which understands the difficult decisions they take in their lives.  This is a changing world which is complicated and families have diverse lifestyles.  Pastoral care for families is seriously lacking in some places.  The church does not understand, or does not want to understand family life today.  Many families are facing very stark choices in difficult circumstances and are left feeling alone.  Who are we to judge?

People on the whole, do not make decisions lightly, or selfishly.  If the church was to reinstate the value of conscience, and encourage and respect people to take responsibility for their choices in life, and pray for them during difficult family periods in their life, this could give the Sacrament of

Reconciliation a whole new life!  A living Church is where people are not judged, but cared for, listened, given mercy, understanding and forgiveness.  Jesus says ‘Do not be afraid’ and Pope Francis says ‘Mercy, mercy, and dialogue.’  This requires courage in the presence of the Holy Spirit.  What we need now is open, frank and fruitful discussions on the ministerial needs of the church which will include everyone, young and old, women and men, priests and religious.

Our family were uplifted and renewed by our conversation and we wanted to share our thoughts.  It will not be easy!  Very few people like change, but we are in a new era of the Church’s life, and we could, if we wanted, embrace it for the sake of our children.


Margaret Lynch is married with four children and six grandchildren.  She is a former marriage guidance counsellor and lives in East Lothian.  Her daughter-in-law Clare McCarron is a teacher and the mother of two boys.



Feb/Mar 2020

In June 2019 Open House held a conference exploring possible new directions for the Catholic Church in Scotland. See conference papers.

Open House also held a conference on the role of lay people in the governance of the Catholic Church in November 2013. See conference papers.